Friday Night Date: O Caranguejo with Babysitters Provided

There is something to be said for having a neighborhood hangout, somewhere you can go and they give you a friendly look and don’t really even need to take your order.   I have been on the lookout for one here since we arrived. Immediately, I was intrigued by a bustling little corner restaurant, O Caranguejo (The Crab), a few blocks from the house near the metro.  It isn’t a very fancy place, but isn’t as dirty as some of the other little corner establishments near us.   We could call it rustic.   The demographic isn’t quite ours either, but it seems to have regulars and I took that as a good sign.

I looked into reviews.   A few years back it won a prize for its shrimp empanadas, but more recent reviews were mediocre rather than glowing.  Guide books said its prices were reasonable, but in passing by with our friends that were visiting a few weeks ago I took one glance and thought they were way too high.  What I didn’t realize at that time was that one plate, or rather a half a plate, easily feeds two to four people.

Friday was a long day.   L and I spent a good part of our afternoon hanging out a McDonald’s play area in the burbs waiting for our car to be fixed.   We got home late and both S and I were in need of a date night.   Given that it was cool out and late, we didn’t want to venture far since we had to be back in time for L’s bedtime so we decided to give O Caranguejo a go.

We got there around 6:30 and outside seating was taken so we sat inside.   We ordered a bottle of wine, the shrimp empanadas and the HALF seafood paella.  The empanadas were small and okay.  We have had better.  L prefers her empanandas deconstructed (or rather she picks out the shrimp).  The paella did not quite fit what I consider a traditional paella but I lived with an amazing Spanish roommate in Egypt who could cook a killer paella, so perhaps I am a harsh judge.    Had this been called a seafood shrimp casserole or some other name, it would have been great.

But really, I am not about to complain about semantics here.   What really rocked the night was that S and I actually got a pretty kid-less date.  Only in Brazil would this happen and it all be okay.  Early when we got there, S took L to the bathroom.  On the way out our waiter caught them and told Lara to come with him.   The restaurant is very small and the indoor area only has about ten tables.   The waiter guided L over to a table a few tables from us and pulled out the chair, introducing her to an older couple.   He looked at us, winked, and told us that the woman is crazy about kids.   Before we knew it, L was drawing and making napkin balls, and talking their ears off, and S and I were drinking wine and discussing adultish kind of stuff.

Fifteen minutes into our dinner, S winked at me and told me that he even could get them to feed L.   I knew they were an easy target and within seconds they waiter was taking L’s plate to the other table.   A couple bites later, L sent her plate back and came to sit with us, but as soon as her dinner was finished she was off to play with her new friends.

As we paid the bill, S nonchalantly asked the waiter if the couple comes often.  He laughed and said every day.   The couple turned around and said they can’t wait to see L again am pretty sure that S and I both decided at that moment that our search for a neighborhood hangout had come to an end, especially if sitters are provided!

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Mom Failure: All Dressed Up With Nowhere to Go

So I am kind of on a roll.   Last week, precisely when I lost L’s Tinker Bell birthday invitations that I never replaced since we are doing it at school anyway, we got one in the mail–the one I was worried about setting a precedent before we had L’s simple party at the school.

Well, I swore the party was tonight and while I thought that a Sunday night party from 5:00 – 9:00 p.m. was a bit ridiculous, I assumed it because it was (1) a holiday weekend, and (2) because this is how Brazilians do it. This will teach me to make assumptions.

We spent all weekend prepping L for the party, going shopping for a present for her classmate, wrapping it up, having L write a card, and tonight she chose a special party outfit.   While S and I weren’t thrilled about going out on Sunday night and loading our kid up with sugar, we were excited to actually meet some of the other parents.

When we got to the building and rang the bell, we realized immediately that something was amiss. The doorman didn’t seem to recognize that there was a birthday party in the building.   I pulled out the invitation to confirm we were in the right place and that is when I saw it–the date.   The date actually said 01/09/2012, meaning last Saturday.

In my defense, old habits die hard.   I only found the invitation in L’s backpack on Tuesday, thus I assumed that the party was this upcoming weekend and when I glanced at the date, I intuitively looked at the middle 09 since we Americans usually list the date month/day/year (we don’t have to get into the fact that I date all my computer documents according to international standards).

Anyway, there we were, all three dressed to make an impression with nowhere to go and having to break it to the little one that there would be no party, friends, games, cake, or candy.   I tried to explain that I made a mistake and confused the date.   Ten minutes later L told me, “I made a mistake too.  I wanted to go to M’s party.”   Not sure the whole message got through, but she did understand that there was not going to be a party.   We settled for pizza, building a tent, and frosting L’s cupcakes when we got home.



Little Things

When our friends left last week it came with a rush of emotion, especially for L.   Tears flowed at the airport as we said our goodbyes and L told my friend, “If you leave, I will be so sad.”

We have been fortunate in that our lives have been pretty steady and we haven’t had to face much emotional distress.  Our leaving the States was spread out over months so when L and I finally did leave it didn’t feel so much like a major event, rather a welcomed reunion with papai who we hadn’t seen for months.

That said, when S’s father, Gido (grandfather in Arabic) passed away in March it hit us all very hard.   L and I spent five weeks in Egypt with S’s family and it was the first time L had experienced such raw grief.  They say toddlers are excellent at emphathy and our time there was testament to that.   Every time Vovó (grandma in Portuguese) cried, L was there, climbing onto her lap to console and comfort her, patting her back and hugging her.  
I think it was the tears at the airport that brought all those emotions flooding back last week.  As we pulled away from the airport, L talked about Chicago,airplanes, and missing friends.  And after I got a little off track and had to do a roundabout return, L settled into a new line of questioning about Gido.   “Mamãe, where is Gido?   I want him to come back.”   “Why did he die?”  “When I grow up, I will die too and then I will go see Gido.”    As I sped along the highway back to the city it was all I could do to keep myself together.   
When Gido passed, I read about the best way to explain death to toddlers–to keep it simple, to try not to focus too much on abstracts, rather concentrate on concepts they can understand.  But this time my simple answers didn’t cut it.  L wanted to understand what happened and why. I was totally unprepared with more sophisticated, yet simple answers.   Finally, she seemed satisfied with my responses (or just gave up) and we talked about putting on popcorn and pajamas when we got home. 
That night, L woke up in a screaming fit, haunted by her first real nightmare (we had a small bout of night terrors about a year ago and while they were scary in the moment, at least she didn’t remember them when she woke up).  This time she was terrified of mosquitoes and little things.
Having seen a swarm of mosquitoes in front of the apartment earlier in the day, I understood where that came from but I had no idea what little things were and blew them off at the time.   But this last week we have all been haunted by little things–shadows on the wall at night that reflect off the passing cars and between spaces in the shades.   She has a palpable fear. 
Two nights ago we read There’s a Nightmare in my Closet and talked about making friends with the little things and Prudence’s Goodnight Book, which usually I find a bit too preachy but was exactly what I needed, and talked about how moms can scare away bad dreams and how you can choose good dreams and put them under your pillow. It worked, but by last night they were back.   The real problem is that these aren’t dreams.    The little things are there before she sleeps and they find ways to sneak under the creases of her covers on her bed and onto her hand, despite my best attempts at hanging blankets where the light creeps in.  
This, in addition, to a potty training regression has made for a tough week.  L told us that if her best friend would just come back she would be all better.    If only things in life were that easy.   I know that these lessons are important life lessons, but it still doesn’t make it easier as your kid goes through them.  As always, I thought I would have a lot more time before I had to tackle such parenting feats.   Trying to strike the balance between acknowleding and validating fears and emotions and brushing them off in hopes they get past them is harder in practice.   I find my first response is to try to make her happy and feel better in the moment, but as a wise friend once told me, it is important to let her feel sad too.
The sadness of her friend’s leaving is passing, or will soon, but the nightmares/fears don’t seem to be.  We tried the spray that worked on the monsters but L called us out on it.    What have you done to confront night terrors?  How do you help your kid deal with feelings of sadness and loneliness?

Stuck in the Rain and Stuck on a Decision: Choosing a Preschool

Wednesday was a long day.   L and I went to visit two day cares and got stuck in the rain.   I need to learn how exactly Cariocas do, or rather don’t do the rain.   It rained in the morning but by the time L and I were up and going it was clear.  Having gotten stuck with the stroller in the rain earlier this week I thought the bike would be a better/faster transportation option for our visits.

I was wrong.   We went to the school, finished our visit, and stopped at Gringo Cafe for a coffee and snack.   I locked up the bike and got a table when L excitedly told me it was raining and I should move the bike.   Ugh.   I managed to stuff my bike between the tables next to where we were sitting.    I ordered a cappuccino, a not-so-hot chocolate and a grilled cheese to wait out the rain   Our waiter brought us a word search and a marker.  L is only 2, almost 3, and while her momma thinks she is bright she is not yet word search ready.  Nonetheless, we made good use of the blank pages on the back and decorated a number of flyers.  Two hours later it was still raining.   Every time I thought it was going to let up, the sky opened again.   Finally I convinced L that taking a bicycle rain shower would be a fine adventure and we made our way home.

And while that was the end to the rain adventure, we still have a decision to make. It is time to enroll L in a day care/preschool and I feel like we are swimming in options, which I suppose is a good thing. I have spent the last week visiting nearly all the creches and escolas (day cares and preschools) between Copacabana and Ipanema, interviewing directors, trying to assess curricula, and making a spreadsheet trying to weigh out our options.

You would think this gets easier the second time around, but it is just as confusing as it was the first time, only in different ways. I know more about L, her personality, her needs, and her interests than I did before, especially considering last time around I was still pregnant. But now we are in a new place and she is navigating a new language and culture and so is her mom.

Kids are amazingly resilient and adaptable and L has a head start, S has always spoken to her in Portuguese and so has his family.  But she still has a way to go before she is the same kid with the same confidence in Portuguese as she is in English.

All in all I can’t complain about our options.   A fifteen minute walk in either direction or a metro stop from our place gives us between eight and ten different options, a few of which are quite well known.   Of course, like everywhere else and especially because this is Rio, these come with a price.

Given L’s September birthday I was actually quite relieved in Chicago that we were going to have another year or two before we had to start making the  preschool decisions. Growing up in a small town with decent public schools, I am still floored by the urban preschool culture of reserving spots years in advance and parents who cram their children for early education placement programs.

And while it seems we have escaped some of the insanity that seems to be rampant in States with the whole process, the decision still doesn’t seem to be easy.

Don’t get me wrong, I really don’t think that this is the make it or brake it for L.   In fact, that is why this is hard, the differences are subtle.  We want a place where she can grow and flourish and I want a place where she can play.

For some reason I thought this whole process would be easier, that I could react on my gut, that it would be a little bit more cut and dry.  Instead I am staying up way too late trying to decide which approach–Montessori, constructivism, or direct learning–is the better option.   And because I am me, and because I have spent the better part of my professional career surrounded by academics, I have now skimmed all the major journals, only to find that there is no one answer.  Something, I am sure, you could have all told me from the beginning.

So now back to my spreadsheet and notes to try to figure out what exactly it is that R$30 or R$200 more actually gets us.

Tell me, how did you decide on the preschool?  What was the deciding factor for you?

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Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas

Because everyday needs and outing and today was to the park right by Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas.  It was recently redone and offers one of the best views of the city.

It earned toddler bonus points for having funny animal cutouts by the shore, a dog park, hungry pigeons and two cranky parrots.

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Strong-Willed Child?

So I blame it on L’s name. S blames it on me. I used to be in denial but I think deep down we have known since the day she came swimming out (literally), L was going to be strong-willed. Who am I fooling? This is the child who went over a month opting not to go to a single park because she wanted to sleep with her mamãe in Egypt. She knows how to push and when she hits the limit, she knows how to just keep pushing, testing, and trying.

It is only Tuesday and we already feel like we should be at the end of the week.  This weekend was rough. Really, really rough. By Sunday night, S and I were totally exhausted and even the wine tasted bitter. We had an entire day of tempers. S got up early with L and I was just about to get out of bed when I heard the first temper rev up. Cue: Stay in bed.

We were on the edge all morning and it was pouring rain outside. By late afternoon, for our own sanity, S and I had to get out of the apartment and we thought we had brought L back down off the cliff. We loaded up and went out for a coffee and a hot chocolate. Two happy cappuccinos and a hot chocolate later, we thought we could end the day with a lovely start to the week.

The only mistake we made was not spiking it while we had the chance. No sooner than we finished, L was at it again in the middle of the street. S and I prayed for a torrential downpour. Instead we just got looks from passers-by as we tried to pretend she wasn’t our child.

Yesterday wasn’t much better and neither was today. L’s voice is hoarse from her new screaming tactics. The doorman calls her “menina chorona” (crying girl).

S and I had high hopes that we might be able to ask the woman who cleans to watch L so we could go to the Arab film festival this week, but L ensured today that won’t be happening. First she threw a tantrum because I asked her to pick up her spoon. Then because I wouldn’t allow her to watch TV after she hit me. She ran around screaming “I. Wanna. Watch. TV!”, which the cleaning woman said sounded like “Nao bate em mim” (Don’t hit me). She warned me that the police could very well just show up at my door and ask what I am doing to my child.


Part of this is L’s personality. Part of it must be our not giving her clear signals or choosing the wrong battles. Part of it, I am sure, is her not having a lot of consistency over the past few months. Most of it is her being age 2, almost 3. (Google told me last night if your child has multiple tempers per day BEFORE age 1 or AFTER age 4 to seek professional help. Apparently, there are three SOL years in there just for us.)

So in the meantime we try to fill in the gaps. Be firm. Be clear. Be respectful. Find her a school/daycare so she can have kid friends and be challenged like she is used to being challenged. I have three appointments to visit programs this week. Hopefully, by next week we will have some place where she can go and start to figure out for herself what her life really is like here.  To make Rio her home.

It is fun to play little people and she has a Kayla, grandma, grandpa, Lucy, Max, Benjamin, Audrey, Jessie, Benson, Luna, and Tio Shaun, but they really aren’t the same thing as having friends here.

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A New Day. A New Place. The Same Old Battle.

Sleep.  Sleep.  Sleep.  The bane of our parenting.

L has defied every sleep training method and every time we think we turn a corner there is a new one awaiting us.    I didn’t actually expect anything to be different here. We had a somewhat established routine before the move, at least we knew that most nights we would put her down and she would sneak out of bed and pile up all of her books and recite them from memory in the dark (unless, of course I forgot to unplug the lamp, in which cases we would see a glow emerge from under her door).   Other nights she would scream and yell and cry, but we learned when to leave it and when to settle her down.

During our stay in Egypt, everything went downhill and with all the change, the cry it out battle that would have inevitably lasted hours didn’t seem worth it, especially in the midst of so much grief with the loss of Gido (oh, how it pained him to hear her cry).  In moments like those you realize that these years are fleeting and rather than fighting L until I am blue in the face, cuddling her to sleep seemed well worth it.  This was especially true given that she was going to bed at midnight and I really didn’t want to stay up any later.  I was still able sneak in some alone time in the mornings before she woke up.    Back in Nebraska though, I had no desire to crawl into bed at 8:30 p.m. so it was a relief that when we got to Grandma and Grandpa’s she managed to go to bed by herself with only some relatively minor (for her) protests.

Since we got to Rio, we have worked hard to make sure that L’s room was the most set up from the time she arrived.  S got the bed up and most of her toys out.  I rearranged things and we decorated it together.     In all honesty her room is great.  It is the biggest in the house and has a little alcove with a kitchen, cars, and dolls.   The problem with her room is that our apartment is on the second floor above a busy street and her window catches all of the traffic accelerating up the hill.  (Note:  There is definitely a market here for affordable mufflers)   It is loud and even the “white noise” of the window AC unit doesn’t do much to drown it out.

So between the traffic and the novelty of it all, and the fact that L just plain hates sleeping, it hasn’t been easy.    However, we aren’t facing the crying, screaming protest from before.   Nope, this kid has grown up and gotten quite savvy over the past couple of months.  She understands what it is to be sneaky.   We put her to bed, the whole routine . . . shower (no baths in the apt), snack, brush teeth, hugs and kisses to everyone with a mandatory “I want you to smell my breath . . haaahhhh”, five books (which translates to a pile of twenty five), one “once upon a time story” about L and her imaginary friend Kencha, a squeeze hug, a nice hug, and five kisses, followed by L listening to music.  But now instead of her screaming her head off when we leave, it is quiet.   She reads, and then . . . she opens the door and sneaks out to see if we are in bed.

The other night, after sending L back to bed twice it was finally quite so S and I settled in for a movie.  Two hours later, S went to go brush his teeth and found L’s door wide open and her nowhere to be found.  He looked in our room and there she was, snuggled up in the middle of our bed fast asleep.   The next night I woke up and she was in my bed, in my arms fast asleep.   Last night I felt her get into bed.   S had told her if she slept by herself we could go to the beach with him in the evening when he went to play volleyball.    I reminded her of it as she climbed into bed and she said, “I cannot go to the beach then.”    I didn’t have the energy to throw her back to bed and listen to her scream.

So tonight I got to stay home with her while S went out.   It is clear from now on we have to talk about what the rewards/consequences are and will be.   Tonight I felt punished for her not sleeping in her own bed.  But these incentives come out in the moment and you find yourself, without thinking, offering/threatening something . . . anything to just get her to bed.    In Egypt, I backed myself into a corner telling her that she couldn’t go to the park if she didn’t sleep by herself.   She opted for a month of sleeping with me rather than going to the park.   Of course that was not at all what I wanted.  Heck, I needed her to go to the park!   So how do we keep ourselves from doing that here?

Perhaps L has the upper hand already.   But I swear to you that mandates do not work with this child.  In her stubbornness she can make anyone cave.   I fear the only thing that will make this child stay in her own bed is the threat of no cookies or ice cream, but I hate pulling the food card, making it into a reward/punishment.    I want my daughter to have a healthy relationship with food.   Perhaps I am over thinking it.

So tonight we will see what happens.  L wants a new pet.   I pulled out the sticker chart and told her if she goes one week sleeping like a big girl, alone in her bed, she will have shown us that she is indeed grown up enough for a fish.